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How pigeons took over the world - Elizabeth Carlen and Joanna Moles

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Seeing their meat as a protein source and their poop as the perfect fertilizer, humans brought pigeons into captivity as far back as 10,000 years ago. As we carried pigeons around the world, they formed the wild urban flocks we're familiar with today and became one of the most abundant species on the planet. Elizabeth Carlen and Joanna Moles track the feathery flier's rise to world domination.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elizabeth Carlen, Joanna Moles
  • Director Joseph Clark, Oh Studio
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Animator Joseph Clark, Russell Etheridge, Hannah Lau-Walker
  • Music Salil Bhayani, cAMP Studio
  • Sound Designer Amanda P.H. Bennett, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Editorial Producer Cella Wright
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Have you ever seen a baby pigeon? Probably not. This is because pigeons stay in their nest until they are fully grown. During this time, both mom and dad care for the chick by providing crop milk. At 2 months when the fledgling pigeon is done shedding its light yellow baby feathers it will finally venture out into the big world and start to learn how to survive without its parents. This delayed exit from the nest allows young pigeons to survive once they leave the nest because they are older and larger, therefore less likely to be eaten by a predator.

Adult pigeons come in a variety of colors and patterns. While we often think of the standard pigeon as a medium-sized gray bird with an iridescent chest and two darker gray bars on its wings, there are many more color and pattern combinations out there if we just stop and take a closer look. This includes pigeons that are all white, all black, missing wing bars, red, brown, and many combinations of these colors. Researchers at the University of Utah have been working to uncover which genes control these color and pattern combinations. They’ve even created a fun game called “Pigeonetics” to help unravel the mystery of pigeon color.

In fact, people have been interested in pigeon colors and patterns for decades. Charles Darwin, who is known for developing the theory of evolution, was fascinated with pigeons and kept dozens of pigeons while he was formulating the theory of evolution. Biologists have also long been fascinated by pigeons’ homing ability. For a long time, researchers thought pigeons used their incredible sense of smell and hearing to travel home. Pigeons can hear frequencies that are so low they can detect storms and volcanic eruptions. More recently, researchers have even attached magnets to pigeon beaks to understand how they are able to find their way home. This magnet test helped researchers understand that pigeons use tiny magnetic particles in the beaks to sense the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elizabeth Carlen, Joanna Moles
  • Director Joseph Clark, Oh Studio
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Animator Joseph Clark, Russell Etheridge, Hannah Lau-Walker
  • Music Salil Bhayani, cAMP Studio
  • Sound Designer Amanda P.H. Bennett, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Editorial Producer Cella Wright
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma